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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 229-232.



Indian Summer — When?

W HEN the woods begin to change, and nature, like the dying dolphin, puts on its richest hues, and the sunsets are gorgeous, and the smoke-like vapor begins to gather on lake and watercourses, and cicada have hushed their evening orchestra, and the bullfrogs have ceased to pipe, and you sometimes see, at early dawn, hoarfrost on the meadow — that is Indian Summer!

Or later, when the dried leaves, slowly winding down from branch to earth, strip the forlorn tree, and the brown and sturdy oak rustles bravely with its rusty foliage; and the green grass is strewn with the pointed tawny leaves of the chestnut, and the highway roads grow crisp, and echo to the wheels of vehicles, and the sky and river seem as if they never could be so blue, and a thin haze hangs in the air — then we know that it is Indian Summer!

Or later — when the trees are all stripped, and their skeletons stand motionless in the still air, and the open chestnut burs still remain upon the ground; when all the leaves have been blown into heaps or ridges, and wreaths of smoke begin to curl up from rural chimneys, and all the birds but unusual flocks of sparrows have flown, and the nights are cool with frosty stars, and the days humid and hazy — then that it is the Indian Summer!


Or later — when the grass itself begins to grow gray, and the clouds grow ashy and threatening, and the river looks cold and ghastly, and the roads are in flinty ridges, and a flurry of snow has scared away the sparrows, and coal and kindling-wood advance in price, and butchers grow rosy, and meat is exorbitant, and poultry is firm in price, and everybody says this is the first touch of winter; and suddenly, the clouds break, and the yellow sun comes out like a bridegroom rejoicing, and warms up again the dull earth and the hearts of men; and the blue vapor is seen again in the heart of the shadowy woods. Then, everybody says, this is the Indian Summer!

Or later — when December has arrived, and we begin to overhaul the furry robes of the stable, and horse have to be carefully blanketed when they cease to trot, and men find now what greatcoats were made for, and children understand how kind was grandmother’s forethought when she knitted the mittens — and the wind howls, and the snow flies, and the rain and sleet becomes blinding, and the lightning ceases to flash, and the thunder to explode in the sky, and then warm and humid weather reappears, and the mist rises, and, enveloping with its magic veil river, cliffs, woods, and plain, so that imagination tricks up the barren landscape with herbage, flower, and foliage, and we see in the flushing clouds the roseate hues of gardens, and once more the misty plains seem tempting to the tooth of grazing animals, and the foggy woods appear to be reloaded with foliage, and the bright squirrel comes from his hiding-place, and now and then a solitary wasp crawls on the window-pane, and we begin to think we have been 231 premature with blankets, and we sit by open windows, and let the fire in the house-furnace fret itself to ashes, and we begin to anticipate the mildest of winters, then everybody says that is the Indian Summer!

When, then, is Indian Summer? Is it in the full change of the green leaf to the infinite hues of October? Is it in the November month, —

“Ere o’er the frozen earth the loud winds run,
  Or snows are sifted o’er the meadows bare,” —

that it comes, like a plumed and painted warrior; or is it far beyond this period, even in the bleak December, that this most poetical of seasons appears, with magic touch, to spread a halo over our American landscapes? Is it not a blessed thing — one to subdue the heart with love and gratitude — that we have not one Indian Summer alone, but many; that, during the dreary months, this beautiful vision comes and goes, and reappears and vanishes, not like the hectic flush of decaying life, but anticipating, as it were, the rosy days of future summers? Is it not a delightful source of happiness to know that, even amid the cold and tempestuous future, some days will be bright and brief seasons of themselves — not singly, but followed by many other days of gorgeous beauty — a succession, as it were, of Indian summers? It is an error to suppose that the colored foliage is the work of frost or decay. I have seen the leaves turn, at the appointed season, when not a crystal of frost has touched a blade of grass — when the days and nights were warm as many in midsummer. It is because the time has come for the ripening of the leaf, 232 as it has come for the ripening of the cheek of a Flemish beauty, or a Duchess D’Angouleme.

Thank the Creator of all seasons that we have dozens of Indian summers between October and January.

But do not look for them after the last day of December. After Christmas, comes the New Year, and no more summers. But it is still a season of hope. In January, when the sun gets stronger, and the days grow longer, then we begin to look for Spring! — for the early crocus blooming amid the snow — for the “resurrection of the earth” — for the tiny bluebird building its hopeful nest — for the ploughed mould and fructifying showers. Such, even, is human life. Many a heart grows prematurely wintry, desolate, and cold, while others, in advanced age, carry with them a sort of frost-bitten bloom, and live and bask in an atmosphere of Indian summers.


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